Episode 16: Languages for All – Thomas Chaurin

Thomas Chaurin holds a Master’s degree in French as a Foreign Language from the University of Rennes 2. He has an extensive experience in language teaching, language teachers’ training, curriculum development, the Common European Framework of Reference for languages and its applications (e.g. European Language Portfolio, Reference Level Descriptors, international language qualifications, European Profiling Grid), quality processes, and management of academic teams and of organisations. He is also involved in the 1+2 Approach in Scotland.

Prior to joining the Centre for Open Learning, Thomas was a Research Associate at Moray House School of Education taking part in a research project analysing the factors of successful language learning in Scottish schools. He was previously the Scotland based Education Attaché of the French Embassy in the UK (2014-2018), the Executive Director of the Alliance Française of Washington DC (2010-2013) and of the Alliance Française of Calgary (2007-2010). Thomas has also held leadership roles in France, Spain, Chile, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Slovakia. He is also Representative for University Language Centres in Scotland on the AULC Executive Commitee, an Erasmus+ Assessor at the British Council, a UNILANG External Examiner, and also a DELF DALF Examiners’ Trainer at the Centre International d’Études Pédagogiques.

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Episode Transcript

[Brittany]  Hello, and welcome back to another episode of Much Language Such Talk. In this episode, you’ll be listening to me, [Brittany], and our fabulous volunteer, Zoe who has just handed in her final assignment of her undergraduate degree in Philosophy and Linguistics from the University of Edinburgh. [Zoe] speaks French, English and Spanish. Welcome, Zoe!

[Zoe]  Hi, hello. Thank you for having me.

[Brittany]  We’re so excited you’re able to join us for an episode, finally. And for today’s episode, we are honoured to be joined by Thomas Chaurin, who is the director of Languages for All in the Centre for Open Learning at the University of Edinburgh as well as the Bilingualism Matters programme director for language teaching and learning. He has extensive experience in language teaching, training language teachers, curriculum development and the CEFR: Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. Before joining the Centre for Open Learning, Thomas was a research associate at Moray House School of Education, taking part in research projects analysing the factors of successful language learning in Scottish schools, as well. He was the Scotland-based education attaché for the French Embassy in the UK, the executive director of the Alliance Française of Washington DC and the Alliance Française of Calgary and held leadership roles in France, Spain, Chile, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Slovakia. Welcome Thomas!

[Thomas]  Bonjour.

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[Brittany]  Bonjour. So, for today’s episode, we’re going to be talking about your extensive research and background in language learning and teaching. And we’re really happy to have you here. So our first question, I think Zoe would like to get us started off with.

[Zoe]  Yeah, we were wondering, maybe you could tell us a little bit more about yourself. How did you get interested in languages?

[Thomas]  Yeah, well, it’s lovely. Thank you. Thank you for having me on this chat today. It’s lovely to have this conversation with you. I’m not sure where it started. But one thing I know is I loved it at school. So, in France, I was learning as my L2 at school, I was learning English. And as my L3, I was learning German. And I enjoyed very much my language classes. I remember we had the opportunity in secondary school to have a language assistant from, I had, I remember one language assistant from England from Newcastle, for example. And I loved going for that additional hour where we could talk about culture in Britain and the music she was listening to. And I also had language assistants in German. And I loved that. And then in secondary on top of English and German, I took Breton as my fourth language. It was a bit of a headache for my school management because I was in science. And so when you do science, you can do only two additional languages.

[Brittany]  Oh, okay.

[Thomas]  And I wanted a third additional language. And so I insisted that I needed to do Breton. So I could do only two of the three periods a week. And I had to catch up the other one, but I managed, and I loved that. But I actually don’t know where it started. But I remember that I really enjoyed those languages. And so basically, at the end of my secondary education, I decided I wanted to become a French teacher abroad and that I wanted to travel and teach French abroad.

[Zoe]  Amazing. So you speak English, obviously, and German, and French.

[Thomas]  So I’ve completely forgot my a German, which is one of the challenges in language learning is you can pick up new languages, but you can also forget languages you’ve learned if you don’t practice them. So I’ve completely forgotten my German. I continue, of course to speak English and I work in English. And then I’ve learned Spanish when I was posted in Chile. I didn’t speak a word of Spanish.

[Brittany]  Oh, really?

[Thomas]  Yeah. In France usually in your L3, you choose between German or Spanish.

[Brittany]  Oh, I see. Okay.

[Zoe]  Yeah.

[Thomas]  So I chose German, so I didn’t learn Spanish. And so when  I arrived in Chile, I was not speaking a word of Spanish. And I was setting up in New Alliance Française  in Valparaiso Viña Del Mar, and I learned Spanish on the ground, and I kept it.

[Brittany]  That’s quite impressive. So you’ve got language learning experience, formerly in different classrooms, but then also the more immersive experience of moving to Chile and not knowing any Spanish and just picking it up?

[Thomas]  Yeah, and so my knowledge of Spanish is very different. I can write Spanish but I would write Spanish as I speak. So I’ve never learned how to place a single accent in Spanish, which in Spanish spelling is quite important. And my grammar in Spanish is totally wrong. My conversation skills and my needs to communicate in Spanish but I have no formal learning of Spanish grammar. Now that didn’t block me from taking the Spanish exam. And I, for example, took the Spanish Diploma de Español Lengua Extranjera, C1  level which is nearly top proficiency level. So you can transpose this in some formal writing, but I’ve never learned it properly. So my grammar is sometimes a bit broken in Spanish.

[Brittany]  That’s super interesting, I guess. Yeah, grammar is one of these things that you can pick up but in writing in particular, it’s most helpful, in my experience, at least to just be explicitly taught. So around that, then you’ve got all these different sort of language learning experiences. What do you think are the benefits to learning new languages?

[Thomas]  That’s a good question. I think there are as many benefits as they are reasons for learning a language. And it all depends what our needs are. Personally, I’m very practical, I need to be able to communicate. And I need to have those interactions. Because in Chile, basically, when I arrived, I had to set up this new Alliance Française and I needed to make it happen. I had to organise concerts, exhibitions, and I didn’t speak a word of Spanish. So I was trying between my English and French to, to make it happen. I remember going on the radio programme trying to sell that contemporary dance show that we were organising with the French Embassy. And I had a very broken Spanish, but I needed to communicate that information that it was a great show and people needed to turn up. So, of course, if your a reason to learn a language is to want to communicate or to travel, that’s, that’s one. Some other people will want to start something new in their life. And they’ve had this in their mind that they wanted to learn a new language. Some other colleagues might need to learn the language because they need to access a text in another language in academia, that’s common if you want to go to the source, right? So the benefits are as multiple as they are reasons. For example, get yourself out of your comfort zone, or meet new people in a language class. Because in a language class, it’s usually quite interactive. So if you’re new in a place, if you go to your language school, surely you will meet people very soon, very quickly as you arrive in a new place. So culture, personal advancement, travel, but also cognitive reasons. And you know of that, I think, Brittany,

[Brittany]  Yes, I do. Just for everyone listening, the first instance that Thomas and I became acquainted was through research. So we’ll come on to this a little bit later, actually,  we can talk about it now, which is the Languages for All programme at the Centre for Open Learning at the University of Edinburgh. So I conducted some research within that programme. Um, so if you wanted to quickly, maybe just talk a little bit about what Languages for All is?

[Thomas]  Yep. So Languages for All in Edinburgh, it’s not always the same across the UK.

[Brittany]  Oh, is it not? Oh, see, I didn’t know that.

[Thomas]  Yeah, it really it’s, it’s a bit of structure in a way. So, in Edinburgh, Languages for All is lifelong learning language courses at the Centre for Open Learning. In other universities of the UK, Languages for All could also include what would be university wide language provision.

[Brittany]  Oh, okay.

[Thomas]  So when you want to study a language at university, either you do a degree in a language and you want to be a specialist in French or Spanish, or Russian or Arabic or any other, or you just want to take a language elective on top of your studies in Law or Medicine. Some of those language electives across the UK could be called languages for all. So it really depends on the history of how languages have been taught in an institution. But in Edinburgh, it’s a lifelong learning language courses at the Centre for Open Learning. But now Languages for All is an academic unit within the Centre for Open Learning. And we do more than actually only lifelong learning language courses. So as of next year, for example, we’ll be offering an access course in languages and cultures.

[Brittany]  Oh, that’s quite interesting. Cool.

[Thomas]  Yeah. For adult returners who want to progress to an undergrad, but who don’t have the qualifications to start a language degree as an undergrad

[Brittany]  Okay. Very nice.

[Thomas]  Yeah. So that’s a new opportunity for students. And I’m quite delighted we’re going to have nine students and many of them want then, aft their project is to progress in Japanese or Chinese or Arabic, but they need to have had some formal language learning before that. And so that’s going to be access languages and cultures. But we also offer Swahili credit courses within the university for undergrad and postgrad students and that’s under Languages for All for historic reasons. Swahili, being a language that is not offered by the School of Literatures Languages and Cultures. This is at the Centre for Open Learning. So, Languages for All is a concept but it’s also a name or a unit at the Centre for Open Learning.

[Brittany]  I think one thing that’s coming across in your answer to that as well is the diversity of languages that are on offer within this concept in the Centre for Open Learning. Could you speak maybe a little bit more about the range of classes and the types of languages that you have available?

[Thomas]  Yeah, we have at the moment. 20 languages, we offer 20 languages. I’m going to try this a lot. Yeah. Let’s see if I can do this. So it’s Arabic, British Sign Language, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Gaelic, Italian, Japanese, Modern Greek, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swahili, Swedish, Turkish. Do you have 20, Zoe?

[Zoe]  Almost. 19.

[Brittany]  Oh, no, we’re just one away. Oh, that was so impressive, though, as well, because it was an alphabetical order.

[Thomas]  I missed one. I missed one. I’m sorry for the language I missed.

[Zoe]  Maybe I miscounted?

[Thomas]  No, it must be me. I probably forgot on language of that list. So we have …

[Brittany]  … quite a few languages, though, nonetheless.

[Thomas]  Yeah, yeah. Really a rich variety here of languages. And we offer every year a complete beginners course in every of those languages. And then in some languages, were able to go to high proficiency level. French, German, Spanish, Italian, we can go up to a C2 level of the CEFR, so the highest proficiency level. But in some other languages, maybe we can only end at the elementary level, which would allow you to travel in a country where that language is spoken, or to have an interaction with someone who speaks that language on very practical subjects. So we can offer a minimum programme in each of those 20 languages, and then for some we can push you a bit further in your proficiency level.

[Brittany]  And how has in light of this sort of elephant in the room, we’re meeting online right now, how have the classes transitioned in light of COVID, moving online, all that sort of stuff?

[Thomas]  Yeah, that’s quite interesting. And it’s been interesting for all of us in the sector, in Edinburgh, but also my colleagues across the UK, in the language centres, it’s been quite positive. And students are telling us in their feedback that they are happily surprised. That they thought it would be not so good, and that they really enjoyed it. In terms of teaching, it’s been quite good. Interesting. Some of the good silver lining, there is high participation, high engagement. It seems to be that the risk taking is higher in communications, in speaking. So that has been quite positive. You would see typically in language classroom that students tend to sit always at the same space, next to the same friend. And with online teaching, for example, with random breakout rooms, we’ve had to speak with different students. And that has worked well. So there’s been a number of good things happening with online teaching and learning. Students discovering new aspects of language before their class or the famous flipping. We’ve always talked about it, but not always tried it. And so we had to try it. And that was another way to introduce new concepts before the classroom and that worked. Colleagues were worrying about this: how do  I manage my programme with the limited contact time on the screen, because it’s a bit slower, not the learning process, but the time we have online because, of course, I have to wait for you to have finished talking before I can talk. And so there’s everything a bit slower there, I need to set up my breakout room, then to bring you back. And so there’s some fluidity, that is gone. But actually, we’ve noticed that students engage more in their autonomous learning before the class and after the class. And that participation in the class is more than in the classroom. Sometimes, where you may, I don rely on some colleagues to speak, and then you could maybe be a bit more quiet. And here with those breakout rooms, for example, on Zoom, where you’re invited to speak more often, and that has been good. Other good feedback is on more writing, more direct, immediate writing on the chat.

[Brittany]  Oh, great. Okay.

[Thomas]  Yeah, writing is one of those elements that is difficult in a language class for adults. Because when you take your two hours course in the evening, you want communication in the classroom, you want something dynamic. And so writing is something that you do on your own and in terms of energy in the class, it’s a bit of a killer. Yeah. So with online learning, and the interactions around the chat, you’ve seen a lot of writing. That’s interesting. Yeah. Yeah. Some of the challenges have been the board, because, so in languages where the alphabet, or the script is different, of course, the first courses you learn, you learn the new alphabet, or you learn the new script. So some teachers have had to invent other ways of introducing the alphabet in Japanese or in Arabic, for example. And so that’s the use of padlets. For example, it’s been very useful to introduce those new scripts.

[Brittany]  What is a Padlet?

[Thomas]  These are the digital tools we use to accompany the classroom where students can write and share a bit of the boards in a way.

[Brittany]  Oh, okay, so more like, like an additional tool, not something that’s like part of Zoom.

[Thomas]  Yeah. Yeah. Because in the old, traditional vision of your language class, you may have your board somewhere there at the back of your tutor, though, the tutor of the language class is not someone who’s standing at the board and who’s writing on the board, that’s not what happens in a language classroom, usually, but there are those moments where some of your students are asking you to write down something because they want to write it down on their notebook, because they want to memorise it that way. And in the case of modern Greek, Russian, or Arabic, or Japanese, you also have to you to learn the new alphabet or the new script. And so that board, that visual element is quite important there. Definitely. And on Coom, that has been, a bit lost, like where are we with this, because I can’t just write like this. And so we’ve had to find new ways. But it works. So, positive. And then the big, big, big, big positive is accessibility, People who are too far to take a language class or who had to travel or were not able to join a language class in the evening after their work, could do it. So that’s the big one.

[Brittany]  Yeah, that’s really, really nice. The accessibility element, especially, not unironically, that the title is Languages for All and in being online, in some ways, is genuinely for all now as in anyone can can join. In my experience, when I’ve looked for language classes, it’s  quite difficult to actually find such a diversity of languages on offer. So to have that online as well must be a really big positive. I know, this might be a question you don’t want to answer or think about. But do you think you’ll move things online in moving forward as well? Or keep them online? I guess?

[Thomas]  Yeah, it’s quite interesting. I mean, this question of accessibility is really the big main question in in language learning. I mean, when you’re looking at the challenges, the question is that language learning is not being accessible, or is not being accessible enough for people. And so I think this is quite essential. And that’s a turning point for us that eventually, wherever you live, you can take your language class. That will make a huge difference. So, when we think about the future programmes, we need to think about this. And that’s a reflection we are having with with my colleagues, which is, are we looking at something that is totally online? Are we looking at a model where we have some on campus experience? Because the social dimension is quite strong in lifelong learning language courses, though, we were able to build some social dimension around the online classroom. Though my intuition is that a mixed model where some on campus experience once in a while, and some online learning might be the best option. But I’m not 100% Sure. So, we still need to think about this. But certainly, we would keep some of this, and certainly the autonomous learning element of these new online courses, we need to keep them because students have enjoyed that, too. For example, in your language class, usually you have some listening comprehension activity. Whether you’re listening to a document and then you have some questions to answer. Now, wih students we’ve had teachers trying to propose this to their students as something they will do autonomously before the class. That has worked well, and students have enjoyed them, because some of them may have wanted to listen it, I don’t know, a fourth time or a fifth time, or to pause or to play or to stop. And that’s something we cannot always do in the classroom with a group of 12 or 14 students. So some of that dimension will have to be captured in our future programmes.

[Brittany]  Yeah, definitely. That sounds like I think a very good middle ground taking the positives of a negative situation and keeping that moving forward.

[Zoe]  You talked a little bit about second language learning. So you’re currently running a project on the 1+2 approach here in Scotland. Could you tell us a little bit about this about your project, and maybe what you hope to achieve with it?

[Thomas]  Yeah, maybe I can start a bit with the 1+2 here and how I joined this project. So not sure. some of our auditors will be familiar with 1+2 policy in Scotland but in a few words, Scotland has implemented a new language policy for their primary and secondary education, whereby every learner in Scotland is entitled to learn two languages, an L2 from P1, which is the first year of primary education to S3, which is a third year of secondary, and then an L3 from P5 to S3. So that new policy came into place in 2012, or 2013. And it needs to be implemented by 2021. So, in September, or in August, when students in Scotland go back to school, they are entitled to those two additional languages. And that’s quite new in Scotland because until now, students were learning only during the last two years of their primary and the first two years of their secondary. So now they start learning a language much earlier from the first year of primary school. And one more year in secondary hopefully, as the things are being rolled out, maybe, when they will look at further entitlement in the same secondary because I think  it’s not such a good idea to stop learning a language on your third year of secondary and then have three years where that’s not an obligation at all. But it’s a different conversation. So that’s where they are in Scotland at the moment. And when I joined the French Institute as the education attaché, my role was, of course, to support the French element. So support teachers across Scotland to introduce French as an L2 in primary one. And this project specifically is a result of a collaboration between Moray House School of Education, Professor Do Coyle and Dr. Fiona O’Hanlon, with colleagues who are responsible in each Council of the region to implement 1+2 policy. So in East Lothian, Midlothian, the Borders, Fife and Edinburgh, there is in each of those Council, one person responsible for the implementation of the 1+2 policy. And their role is to support staff in making this happen.

[Zoe]  Has there been any challenges or obstacles in implementing the 1+2 programme?

[Thomas]  The reality is that colleagues in the primary school had to learn how to learn a language and learn how to teach a language. And on their own. And with the support of those colleagues from their councils because it’s an entitlement for the learners but it’s the responsibility of each professional, each teacher, to get trained and to know how to teach and introduce those languages. So quite, quite a challenge.

[Brittany]  Yes. Wow. Yes.

[Thomas]  That’s quite a challenge. When  all of this stuff started, of course, there was a number of critics in in the primary sector, who were saying: well, I’m not comfortable at all, I don’t speak a word of a language. My last formal language learning was in my secondary education years ago. And I feel totally rusty or I actually have learned German and now  I’m being asked to teach French. So, the beginning of the 1+2 was, of course, very challenging, but progressively colleagues have accessed some trainings. And they’ve seen what other colleagues can offer. And so bit by bit, they’ve tried, and they’ve tasted the water, and they start to introduce the language in their class. And so, this project specifically started three years ago, where, after a few years of 1+2, where basically the Councils were proposing a lot of trainings to colleagues or in schools, there was a need to see where we were. So what’s going on on the ground? What are the needs? Is language now a reality? What’s being offered? And what’s the next step? And how can we best support our colleagues for the next step? So the first element of it was a research piece, where we looked at the literature, looked at what are the ingredients for success in education in language learning. And then we went to see some language classes in various schools of the region and, and we interviewed learners and teachers and headteachers to see how they defined successful language learning. So with this, we looked at what was working well, and we looked at what were the identified challenges and where we could possibly support colleagues. And from there, we gathered other colleagues, other primary and secondary teachers, looking at those challenges, and looking at how best we could support them with those challenges. And we are in the final phase of creating a self-evaluation tool, which will help them to evaluate either as a professional, or as a school, or as a team, their language provision and what is their next step in rolling out the 1+2 in this school for a positive experience for students and a successful language learning.

[Zoe]  With all of this having been done, what are your next steps and when are you expecting to have this tool ready?

[Thomas]  It’s been nearly three years. We hope to have the tool ready at the end of June. We are at the moment, it’s my colleague Fiona O’Hanlon and my colleague Ann Robertson who’s the 1+2 officer for the Borders, East Lothian and Midlothian, who are writing the the tool at the moment and working with the digital team of the college to create a website where teachers will find resources, but will also evaluate themselves on success criteria. And so we’re looking forward to launch this in in the next few months, weeks or months, somewhere there by the end of the school year.

[Brittany]  Very soon, yeah.

[Thomas]  So, we’re looking forward to this. Because it’s been a bit long in the making. Because of COVID, we had to pause our initial plan, since we had to redesign a bit how we could create this with colleagues. But at the end, there should be something out there soon. And feedback from colleagues up to now, we’ve presented on a number of occasions already the progress we’ve made, and it’s been excellent feedback from colleagues who want to pause and have a bit of thinking to plan their next step. So some of the challenges they’re facing, for example, is to make sure that language learning is a continuous activity from P1 to S3, and how do we make sure that there are no interruptions there in learning, for example, in a year where the teacher would not feel comfortable teaching this language and would be equipped with another language? How do you do this? Another challenges is, for example, how do you introduce another additional language in P5? And so as a primary practitioner, you’re able to introduce French, but then in P5, you have to introduce Spanish? So would that be you? Or would there be a team within your school? Or would you have other arrangements? There’s reflection on how you embed language learning in the primary curriculum, but also in the life of the primary school. So many, many of those we’ve discussed with colleagues, and we’ve tried to find ways to invite them to think about these and to define how they want to progress on those challenges with their colleagues and their learners in their schools. So yeah, great, great, interesting stuff coming out soon.

[Zoe]  Awesome. It’s good to hear all that. Well, good, interesting to hear all the complexities that go into making such programmes. So here we’re dealing with children. Languages, for All is mostly targeted towards adults, right? Yeah. So you’re working with children, you’re working with adults, sometimes older adults as well? Do you have any  age group that you prefer working with? Or you find more fun working with perhaps?

[Thomas]  No, I don’t think so. Personally, yes, as a French teacher, I’ve worked with all ages, I’ve worked with very young ones. I’ve worked with adolescents, I’ve worked with young adults, and then with lifelong learners and mature students, and I don’t have a preference. All learners are quite interesting. I don’t think there is from my point of view, but I think [Brittany] might want to comment on this later, I don’t think, I’m not sure that learning styles are connected to the age. I think it’s more of how do you learn and what is your relation to language classrooms. So, for example, you have some students who would very much like to have a direct interaction with their teacher, and would not value as much the interaction with their fellow learners. It depends from your culture, and the type of education you’ve had in the type of formal schooling you’ve had and how you value your colleagues in the class. It’s also dependant on your representations. So for example, if you think that only the teacher is able to explain, or their pronounciation would be the only correct one, then in that case, you would be thinking that you want to have a direct interaction with your teacher. They are some some people who think, for example, that an elderly audience would rather fall on that pattern. I don’t think I would agree with that. It all really depends on your representations. I’m sure you can find systems where collaborations between mature students have been nurtured in such a way that they would collaboratively learn the language amongst themselves and would not necessarily need so much attention from the one tutor in the classrooms. Though, I’m not sure, [Brittany], where do you think of this? Because you’ve you’ve studied that at Languages for All?

[Brittany]  Yes. Yeah. It’s a really interesting question, this idea of  the preferences around learning as age-related or experience-related. And I think something that’s come up a lot from the work that we’ve done with Languages for All with your teachers, as well as your  students, is exactly that, that it’s not necessarily  “Oh, I’m suddenly 50. So I will only like to learn in this way.” And if you are, you know, in your 30s, then you must learn in that way. It’s not really the age boundary, but it’s more about the background experience and what people are wanting to get out of the class. So, what we sort of been talking about motivation, or why you might want to learn a language, that’s going to obviously dictate then the style of learning you might want to go about or what things you want to focus on. So if you’re looking specifically for verbal communication, writing isn’t going to be very interesting. That’s not surprising. Or say, if you are really wanting to learn a language for, say, reading a text in the original language in which it was written, the grammar is going to be very important for you there because that’s going to be in the written modality. So you want to follow that. So, a lot of the the findings we found is very similar to that, like supporting what you’ve experienced, as well as it’s not necessarily age, dictating the style that people are going to prefer in learning, but more so their experience, previously, their background, and then also what their motivation is for being there in the first instance. But I think there is definitely a misconception of the sort of traditional teacher at the whiteboard pointing to different letters on the board and saying: “This is how you pronounce this one versus this one versus that one”.

[Thomas]  Yeah. Yeah, that’s, that’s quite interesting. All of those representations. So for example, the type of language learning we’ve had at school. And so our relation to grammar, or our relationship with translation, but also our attitude as the learner in the classroom. Do we want to speak all the time? Or for example, do you raise your hand all the time? Because you’re in in a hurry to, because you have the answer and you want to give the answer. Or things like this. And so, yeah, you would see this in your language class, at any age, I think.

[Brittany]  Yeah. And there’s individual differences as well, that is quite important. Yeah, it’s not maybe age driving that, but personality differences, as well as anytime you have a group of people, there’s going to be a social element there. And some people get along better than others, etc. So there’s all of that to navigate. It’s not as easy as just having like, you know, a little avatar that’s this age, and therefore they behave a certain way. Yeah.

[Zoe]  I was wondering whether to what extent would you say the educational framework ties in to that, in the sense that, you know, learning a language at school, from my experience was very much ticking boxes, in kind of a boring way learning tenses, learning, you know, the grammar, and I actually did a course in Spanish at Languages for All and my experience was very different. It was very much more thematic based. And of course, we would do grammar within that. But it wasn’t just today, we’re going to do the subjunctivo. So yeah, I was wondering whether, you know, in the end, do educational framework kind of shapes what your attitude is to language learning?

[Thomas]  Of course, and we’ve all, I mean, it’s quite unfortunate that many of us. Yeah, I mean, I would think that many I’m not sure, Brittany, what was your experience of language learning, but many think it was, don’t necessarily have great memories of what they did at school or don’t always think that it was useful?

[Brittany]  Yeah, I think in my case, I’m quite lucky, actually, because I took French in high school. And in my high school, there were two on offer –  French or Spanish – Spanish was the more popular one. So I had the same teacher for all four years, who was absolutely incredible. Mademoiselle Newman, if you’re listening, you are still one of the best teachers. And she made it quite fun. And because I was with her the whole time, I was actually with a similar group of students as well. So we sort of all went through that journey together. And that cohesive element, I think, really helped, but also she made grammar, so fun, which sounds like an oxymoron, maybe for some people, but it was so fun. And we would have like flip books, for example. And then we would spend the time making them in class. Learning what, you know, the different shapes are called in French or what the colours are, what the utensils were using: scissors, etc, and then produce the thing to learn from later. I think my experience maybe is not as representative. But I’ve definitely heard, from my own research, that it can be very unpleasant the learning experience. Luckily, though, mine was great.

[Thomas]  Things have changed a lot now. And the way we teach languages has changed and this 1+2 policy in Scotland is about this, which is something that is more much more motivating, much more adapted to students’ ways of learning to our curriculum today. But it’s true that I mean, the traditional way of learning the language was very boring in a way where you were learning the grammar and the translation. And it still, I mean, there’s still a number of students who like this, and who would want this and which think that this is best way to learn a language. So that’s not to be discarded like this. But yeah, I think the demand today or the needs, of course, is to be proficient. I mean, we  we need language programmes that allow you to have a communication. I mean, that’s what I think, to have a communication in the language and so, of course, language pedagogy has changed. Our curricula have changed the law, the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, but not only. More research there. There’s a lot of development, there’s been a lot of development. And so of course, the experience you had Zoe, in secondary education is different from what is being offered today, I think, I don’t know in France, how they teach English today. But I would imagine it would be, it would be quite different today, because it was very much text based in our age where we are still reading a lot. We were reading documents about English speaking countries, but very, very based on the written materials, and the speaking, was less present in the classroom. And we can see now that a number of countries in the way they want to teach but also assess languages are valuing speaking much more than was the case in the past. It also comes from that, when you have 35 students in front of you speaking is more challenging to organise.

[Brittany]  That’s true. Yeah.

[Zoe]  So you’re the Bilingualism Matters programme director for language teaching and learning, and have extensive experience training language teachers and creating curriculum. From what we’ve said, and maybe you can add some more as well. What do you think are key factors in ensuring successful language learning and language in general?

[Thomas]  Yeah, I think we’ve said a number of the factors there. And they are the factors around how you organise this learning, and how accessible it is. And it’s key, because adults, you need to find a space for that language learning. So you need to design courses which fit around other activities. In the universities, it’s also a challenge when you think about language electives that come up on top of your degree, because if you have heavy schedule already, and that you want, on top of your studies in Law, or Medicine continue to learn French or Spanish or German. There are a number of students who have kept a language until the end of secondary, who decide not to do a degree in a language, who study another subject or their degree at the University. But who could continue where they stopped. And actually, that’s would be advisable, because as we said, if you don’t practice, you may lose your language. So if you want to continue learning, while you’re doing Medicine, and you have a heavy schedule, then you need you need a programme that is designed around you and that you’re able to take. And so accessibility and how you design this learning is quite key. And as we’ve said, the online has been positive, and we need to continue progressing into that direction and making sure language learning is accessible. Because I think that’s one of the major challenges in the UK regarding language learning. You hear all the time that we’re not good at language learning in the UK. And I don’t think that Brits are better or worse in language learning, it’s only that they’ve not always had good experience, or they are they have a complex of inferiority. But also language learning has not always been available, basically. And so they’ve made the wrong choice. They’ve stopped it very early in secondary. They have not picked it up again. And then it’s too hard, or I have to start all over. And, or it’s too heavy in terms of time commitment. And so, I want to do this. So I mean, a big, big, big enormous factor in successful language learning is how do you design this learning to be fitting with with your other commitments in life and for adults is essential. So that’s one second one is, of course, your curriculum, and then what you teach, if we’ve talked about Zoe, and about your experience at school, I mean, if this is so remote, from your interests, your personal interests or your objective. If this is something that you take on to be successful in an exam, but actually that is disconnected to your interest in that language, then of course, that’s not going to be a very successful experience. And so of course, the curriculum itself needs to be looked at, how relevant it is how connected to you, that’s quite an essential one. And then, of course, keeping the motivation. And so this motivation will come as you progress. And it will come with your progression, the fact that you’re able to do more and more and more in that language your learning will help you to continue. Now, if you have unreasonable expectations, that will discourage you. So yeah. And those unreasonable expectations don’t come from…  They come because we’ve not explained you properly, we’ve not explained well enough what it takes to learn a language. So that’s our responsibility to explain, okay, at the end of this one year course you’ll be able to do this. And to reach the objective that you want you’ve been telling me you want to reach which is for example, being autonomous in the language, with my Languages for All programme at the moment, it’s going to take you five years. And it’s fine. You’ll reach that, but don’t burn the steps, because otherwise you’re going to be discouraged. And so there’s a lot there to be said about measuring success, planning the next step, evaluating what I’ve learned, and being aligned with students expectations and making sure that students know where they are with their learning and what’s their next steps in their learning. It takes some time. You won’t be bilingual after one course. And it needs to be clear from day one. Because if not, it’s going to be disappointing and of course, an adult has made the effort to enrol in a language class, take the risk to enrol in a language class where, I mean, in beginners courses language class, you feel awkward/ What you’re able to say is so limited. And you have to pronounce those sounds and you feel stupid in some occasions. So you’ve done all of that work. If then you’re disappointed because you’ve not achieved what you wanted to achieve, then it’s quite terrible. So here, of course, success is about motivation. And to keep this motivation is, of course, measuring success, planning the next step. But also, of course, learning the language that I want to learn and you want this experience, of cours to be enriching. And you want to be learning useful stuff in the language, of course. So lists of vocabularies for example, maybe not. Translation, systematic translation, maybe not. That’s a different, I mean, some people need to do that. And they have a motivation to learn that they have needs to do this. But in your lifelong learning language class, that’s not typically what people need and want and so then that’s not something we should propose. Otherwise, we will be deterring students  from learning that language.

[Brittany]  Yeah, I think on that note, that’s a really, really thought-provoking spot where we can end the episode. We do have more questions, but we do not have the time. Thank you so much for joining us today where we spoke about language teaching and language learning with Thomas Chaurin. We hope you enjoyed it and learned some cool things, or at least some thought provoking information. I know I certainly did. A special thanks to Thomas for his time and for sharing his expertise with us. If you’re interested in learning more about him and his work, there’ll be a link to his university web page in the episode description to the Languages for All classes at the Centre for Open Learning, should you be interested in maybe taking a class. Tune in next time to keep learning about how languages shape us and the environment around us. As always, stay safe, stay healthy, and …

[Thomas]  Hasta luego! Gracias!

[Zoe]  À bientôt!

[Brittany]  Ciao!



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